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A message from Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead

guest column

Our nation is, yet again, crying out for justice, equality, reform, and answers — answers to the same question — asking why this happened again.

On Jan. 10, 2023, Tyre Nichols died at the hands of law enforcement. This is the latest incident where law enforcement acted in a manner that caused the death of a black man — this time by five members of the Memphis Police Department. Truly, I am saddened by the actions of those five police officers. The fact that all five are Black makes this tragic situation even more disturbing and disappointing. I am, however, encouraged by the quick and transparent response of the Memphis Police Department and legal system across Shelby County, Tenn., which took decisive action in investigating and indicting the former officers.

It pains me to say that I am disheartened so little has changed since George Floyd’s murder almost three years ago. Immediately after Mr. Floyd’s death, I was part of discussions and workgroups that led to the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 300. This NC Senate legislation created model polices for law enforcement agencies and built new and stronger community relationships. I was hopeful we had turned a corner and would not see another incident where officers would abuse their power in such a manner as to cause the death of a fellow human being. Undoubtedly, we have much more work to do — not just here in North Carolina — but across the nation, to train up professional law enforcement, restore public trust, and end these senseless acts of brutality.

In the coming days as the public views the body-worn camera footage and begins to gather to express outrage and demand reforms, I encourage everyone to do so in a peaceful manner. Let us gather in a way that demonstrates support for the family of Tyre Nichols. Let us gather to remember Tyre Nichols with one voice — a voice committed to building a just community for all. Let us continue to work together to create positive change and real reforms to the criminal legal system. I will stand with you!

Clarence Birkhead is the Sheriff of Durham County. He served as the Chief of Police at Duke University Public Safety for 7 years, from 1998 to 2005.


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